Monday, October 23, 2006


Monster movie fan that I am, I had never heard of this Japanese import until I saw it on Turner Classic Movies' schedule last month. I figured, what the hell, and watched it expecting at best a sublimely bad movie, but instead it turned out to be a creepy and fairly compelling film, though in essence, it's just a long Twilight Zone episode. The film is set on a passenger jet where the mixed bag of travelers (psychiatrist, politician, arms dealer, space scientist, etc) are discussing the sad state of the world--wars, assassination, suicide terrorists--while the plane is flying through an increasingly apocalyptic-looking blood-red sky, and birds begin suicidally smashing themselves against the plane windows. Suddenly, even more hell breaks loose: just as the pilot gets a message that a bomb may be hidden on board, a man with a gun (Hideo Ko) storms the cabin, and a UFO zooms over the plane, sending it crashing to the ground. And all this happens before the credits! The survivors are left with little food or water, not knowing where they are. The gunman escapes, finds the glowing UFO, and in a trance, walks into it, to be confronted by a pulsing silver-blue blob. In one of the coolest effects ever, the man's face splits in two and the blob slithers in, taking control of him. Eventually, others get taken over in an old-fashioned vampirish fashion, tensions mount in the plane as the civilized surface of the passengers is worn down, and a creepy apocalyptic scene provides a satisfying ending. There is a strong anti-war theme running throughout the film, with newsreel footage of Hiroshima and Vietnam spliced in here and there during heated discussions. A young blond American woman takes pity on the split-faced guy because his face reminds her of the fatal wounds of her soldier-husband, who died in Vietnam. The politician gets on everyone's bad side, especially when it is revealed that the arms dealer has pimped his wife to him. According to Robert Osborne, this film inspired a scene in Quentin Tarentino's KILL BILL. Overall, a nice surprise, well worth searching out. It's on a Region 2 DVD, which may bode well for an American release someday. [TCM]

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